Breakfast and the ‘Other’

There is nothing like breakfast to start the day. Especially if it is a nice gourmet specialty like the one that Don prepares. Also breakfast can help you to know about culture. About how groups of people that we call nations reflect their idiosyncrasy in the way they prepare and eat their breakfast.

In my first visit to Japan many years ago I felt in my skin. or I should say in my taste. a cultural shock when I encountered my first real truly Japanese breakfast in the wonderful city of Nikko. I don’t remember now what did I have but I do remember that after I finished I have to run to find a bakery and buy a nice sweet something. That is how unsophisticated I was at the time and I am glad to say that that would not be my reaction if I happen to experience the same situation today.

This is another example. In a few days I will make for breakfast a “tortilla española” (Spanish omelet). To be sure that I did a good job I phoned my mother for proper directions. I explained the situation and the very first question that came out of the other side of the wire is “A tortilla for breakfast?! You have been too long in Canada son!” (That is a first experience for her in breakfast cultural differences).

I pointed to her that here in Victoria in a Bed and Breakfast it is ‘normal’ to have this kind of food to start the day and that for a change I wanted to do something Spanish for my guests. Then she replied, “If you want to do something Spanish why don’t you made nice toasts with olive oil and rub some garlic on top with a pinch of salt?” (And that would be the first breakfast cultural difference for my guests!)

The situation can get very picky with this issue. Asparagus and lettuces I can use in my ‘tour de force’ dishes. What about Broccoli? Or carrots? Definitely not! What makes a vegetable a breakfast friendly vegetable?

So it can be an important issue especially if ones noted that we are talking about the first meal of the day and we want to start nicely the day. Don’t we? But to me the most interesting thing about culinary differences is that actually it happens and it makes this world a bit more interesting to live and experience.

On Marmalade

Remember that English is my second language so please be lenient.

Our particular feeling of a bed and breakfast at Albion Manor is related to the idea of being a link to the past and some good traditions (Beware! Some, not all traditions are good).  In this past, things were done not thinking in practicality or cost wise but in the only way things are or should be done (without killing ourselves in the process, after all we are in the twentieth one century).

In our table over breakfast we offer Seville orange marmalade.  It goes without saying it that I am the responsible for it and of course I am following a family recipe.  This peculiar way of making the concoction was develop in my country by my family in one of the most difficult time in the recent history of Spain.  If they manage I should do my best to try to made it now in here with so much wealth of options in our hands.

Imagine the scenario.  Spain 1940, the Civil War just finished in fact groups of terrorists (well I would not call them that, rather freedom fighters but again that depends in which side of the camp you are siting.  Is it not?) were hiding in the mountains fighting back in a desperate low key guerrilla war trying to send a message to the world that the spirit of democracy in Spain was still alive.  The Guardia Civil was kept busy trying to find and kill them, the guerrillas were as well trying to kill and avoid to be so by the others.  It was dangerous for every body but specially and ironically for the poor, as the African saying goes “When the elephants fight the grass suffers”.

My mother’s family lost every thing in the war, most important her father.  So my grandmother with her three kids moved to live with her two sisters and their family.  And they very were lucky. They managed to work for a landlord that allow them to live in one of his farms (bullfighting land) in the countryside deep in the south just one or two journey walk from Gibraltar.  Precisely one of the most active unsettled areas in the South.   They were allow by the landlord to use a little land to grow vegetables and rise some livestock.

Once when I was a child inadvertently I over heard a whisper that was suppose to be a secret. Even if decades has passed it was very incorrect to allow minors to know about wrong things that your elders did even if it was for a good cause.  You never know the licenses a child can take if he or she heard of broken rules done by their role-models.

In hot midday summers men goes for the canonised siesta and the women of the house gather together in the fresher part of the house to quietly chat.  It’s with those low voices conversations that kids finally surrender to the siesta or so the grownup people thinks.  In one of those days I learn of a time when my mother was a little girl (unbelievable to heard that she ever was).  Her two elder brothers were teenagers.  At the time it was almost customary in the farm for the boys to go to work.  I knew that it was often repeated to me, reminding me of how spoiled my cousins and I were.  Suddenly the voices went more quietly.  Some thing interesting was being mentioned.

I heard that during those wretched times my two uncles for a while were smugglers!  You see after the Spanish Civil war Great Britain closed it’s border that it had with Spain.  Yes, Spain has an actual geographical land border with Great Britain (even if Great Britain is an island) through its colony Gibraltar.  An illegal black market was instantly created.

In order to gain a extra money for the family my teenager uncles were put to work in that lucrative black commerce.  They used to go off for days, waking during the nights some time taking longer to use safer passes between valleys and mountains elevating the fears for an unfortunately encounter.  They have to be extra careful to keep an eye in two sides the Guardia Civil in one hand and the guerrillas in the other all looking for their precious cargo.

The cargo usually was beautiful silk female stockings from America, tobacco, café and sugar from Cuba, tea, and marmalade from England.  Back in the safety of home and one just can not imagine the relieve of the family seeing those two young lads approaching over the smooth hills that surround the house.  They will wait for the “connection” owner of the cargo.  But some times the connection coming to pick up the goods never showed up for reasons unknown- too sad or scary to even think about.  No one to turn to no one that could claim a thing that can be recognise to exist.  So here we have a family of very modest living some time enjoying the luxuries of a few.

The problem always so human was that once you try the good stuff you want more.  Of all the goods that they got to enjoy only marmalade could be reproduce by them.  I don’t know who, probably some of my great aunts figure it out.  Probably she thought of how strange the world was that the marmalade has to come from England when the oranges where produced right there in her own patio so to speak.  So having a beautiful Seville orange tree in the patio, keeping the seeds for the pectin and using the extra sugar (plus three extra ingredients that I will avoid mention if you don’t mind) they would produce the thing them.

And they did.  And they never commercialised it and never became rich.  In fact one of the most important job for absolutely everybody was to keep an eye in the horizon to spot any Guardia Civil on patrol and run to the house to hide anything what so ever that would be difficult to justify in such a lowly surrounding.

PS. For the enquiring mind.  Here in Victoria BC we receive authentic Seville orange once a year around February.  That is when I provide myself with the most important ingredient.  Ho ever I am trying to grow my own Seville orange tree from a seed of a tree from my own neighbourhood in Sevilla that I smuggled into Canada three years ago.  I guess that certain things just go naturally into your own blood.

Fernando at
Albion Manor Bed and Breakfast in Victoria BC

More About Coffee

More about coffee

Remember that English is my second language so please be lenient.

According to “Vox populi”, in the 1600’s Pope Clement VII drank coffee, liked it and baptized it to convert it into a Christian drink.  I can imagine the ceremony in which His Holiness sprinkled holy water with a ‘golden hisopo’ (hyssop?) over the rich dark grains so it will not stain the souls of good Christians (Catholics).  No one pointed out how he could drink the beverage without it being Christianize!

On the other hand, I guess that it was good luck that I was not around to comment on it.  Otherwise the Catholic population would not enjoy the taste of café today.  Eh?

I am becoming notorious for making strong café at Albion Manor.  I have my theory about this problem.  If the café is strong I can smooth it down with a little of hot water.  Just as Clement VII did so café will not conflict with the drinker’s soul.  But if the café is weak there is nothing that I can do except use it as a nice stain for my watercolours.  Besides, I am running a Bed and Breakfast not a school of art.

Coffee

Remember that English is my second language so please be lenient.

I really think that it is the coffee.  There is a change of attitude in our guests at our Victoria BC b and b.  Some time the change is as dramatic as the change between chrysalides and butterfly.  They arrive quietly to the Peacock Parlor to wait a few minutes until breakfast is announced.  It is here where usually they have the first taste of my café or tea.  In a minute a lively chat can be heard from the dinning room where I am organizing the last details.  To help the digestive system to start I like to let the door of the kitchen open so the smell of the freshly made scones that Don has been making since the early hours of the day have permission to invade every room and surely will find a receptive nose.

The talks start later almost at the end of the breakfast.  It is how we human show our practicality, let’s first deal with these delicious pancakes and those wonderful sausages and we will talk later about how we can solve the problems of the world.

It is because our bed and breakfast embraces art in all its corners that this is an important subject at the end of our meals.  The guests don’t need to have degrees or read an “Art for dummies” kind of book in order to participate.  It is good at least to have an opinion, respect for someone who knows more than you and finally humbleness for who don’t know and is willing to learn.  And if this person doesn’t want to learn another cup of café may help to solve the problem.

One thing that I have learned as an artist since I am at Albion Manor is to be approachable to others.  And that is something that many people appreciate because they can ask questions about difficult contemporary art and I explained in simple language if only because English is not my mother tongue and my repertoire of words is some how limited to plain vocabulary.

I have to say that contemporary art is difficult as it should be since we, as humans, gradually in all our fields became more sophisticated.  You can not ask a Nobel Prize in mathematics to forget about all those complicated operations and return to old good additions and subtractions.  Could you?

In the same way it would be wrong to assume that past times expressions of arts were easier to understand.  This is wrong in two levels.  One we think that we understand confronting a work of art of the XVI centuries because we as a society already has absorbed what the artist wanted to say and therefore we see it immediately other question would be if the people contemporary to that artist understood what he (unfortunately not he/she) wanted to say.